Paul MacCready, an aircraft designer and environmentalist, is a pioneer of human-powered flight, alternative energy for transportation, and environmentally responsible design.

Why you should listen

Through his life, Paul MacCready turned his mind, energy and heart toward his two passions: flight and the Earth. His early training as a fighter and glider pilot (glider pilots still use the "MacCready speed ring" he developed after World War II) led him to explore nontraditional flight and nontraditional energy sources.

In the 1970s, he and his company, AeroVironment, designed and built two record-breaking human-powered planes: the Gossamer Condor, the first human-powered aircraft to complete a one-mile course set by the Kremer Prize, and the Gossamer Albatross, the first to cross the English Channel. The planes' avian names reveal the deep insight that MacCready brought to the challenge -- that large birds, in their wing shape and flying style, possess an elegant secret of flight.

He then turned his wide-ranging mind toward environmentally responsible design, informed by his belief that human expansion poses a grave threat to the natural world. His team at AeroVironment prototyped an electric car that became General Motors' pioneering EV-1. They explored alternative energy sources, including building-top wind turbines. And they developed a fleet of fascinating aircraft -- including his Helios solar-powered glider, built to fly in the very top 2 percent of Earth's atmosphere, and the 2005 Global Observer, the first unmanned plane powered by hydrogen cells.

 

Paul MacCready’s TED talks

Paul MacCready on the TED Blog
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Technology

Happy anniversary, T.G.I.M.B.O.E.J.

July 2, 2009

T.G.I.M.B.O.E.J. stands for The Great Internet Migratory Box Of Electronic Junk, and it’s celebrating its first anniversary this week. Do think of it as partly a social experiment, but more so a free-range parcel service-based electronics grab bag that circulates among hardware hackers who are eager to discover useful, cool, old, or even rare treasures […]

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Gossamer Condor: The Movie

October 1, 2007

Paul MacCready‘s first try for the Kremer Prize for human-powered flight, in 1976, was his Gossamer Condor, a Mylar-covered aircraft powered by a very, very tenacious bicyclist. Filmmaker Ben Shedd followed MacCready’s team as they designed and built this elegant plane. Shedd’s resulting documentary, The Flight of the Gossamer Condor, won an Academy Award in […]

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Quotes from Paul MacCready

Over billions of years on a unique sphere, chance has painted a thin covering of life — complex, improbable, wonderful and fragile.
Paul MacCready
TED1998 • 148K views Oct 2008
Fascinating, Inspiring
Suddenly, we humans — a recently arrived species, no longer subject to the checks and balances inherent in nature — have grown in population, technology and intelligence to a position of terrible power.
Paul MacCready
TED1998 • 148K views Oct 2008
Fascinating, Inspiring
The surviving intelligent life form on Earth is not going to be carbon-based; it’s going to be silicon-based.
Paul MacCready
TED1998 • 148K views Oct 2008
Fascinating, Inspiring